On my 21-st birthday, I was living in Connecticut, going to college, and looking for an apartment.
Financially, it kind of made better sense to live off campus. It would mean that I would have some overages in scholarships and come graduation, my university would owe me a check. (That was actually pretty sweet.)
Also, I wanted to play house with a boy I was moving up from Georgia. Socially, emotionally, and truly financially, this made no good sense at all. (It was actually pretty stupid.)
So, instead of throwing down mugs of green beer (my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day) or getting another bad tattoo in a questionable spot in Bridgeport, I spent the day going up and down the Merritt Parkway searching for the cheapest, most livable place to rent.
And just off (what used to be) the infamous Sikorsky Bridge (when it felt like driving over corrugated sheet metal) – my 1982 Oldsmobile Firenza just stopped. No power. No gas pedal. No nothing. I cranked the wheel as hard as I could to get over to the breakdown lane. I flipped on my hazards and cried.
I didn’t yet own a cell phone.
I knew next to nothing about cars.
My family was more than 100 miles away.
And the Merritt isn’t really a great strip of highway to walk.
So, I cried louder and harder and punched the roof a few times.
After my tantrum I noticed a notebook, then started rummaging through the piles of laundry, books, empty coffee cups, and other accumulating debris that I typically traveled with to unearth a thick black Sharpie.
PLEASE CALL FOR HELP
and stuck the sign in my back window.
Twenty minutes later, a cop car pulls up behind me. I’m relieved and anxious. Because I’m stuck. And newly 21. And he’s a cop.
He approaches the driver’s side – hands on hips – touching his gun. I roll down (like for real) my window.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Oh, my car died. I’m stuck.”
“License and registration.”
“Oh, ah. Wait, but I just need a call for a tow.”
“License and registration.”
“Okay, hold on. It’s a bit of a mess.”
I stumble through my disaster to get to the glove box for the registration. Then I fumble with my wallet.
“If I search this vehicle am I going to find anything?”
I’m thrown by his question. Find anything? Like, I know what he means, I just don’t know how to answer. I haven’t smoked in… months, I think…but I have lots of friends who are stoners. It’s totally possible there’s a bud, or some seeds, or at least resin somewhere…I mean the car is a DISASTER. Maybe? Is maybe what I’m supposed to say? Instead I go with:
“Officer, I asked you here.”
He’s not impressed and again asks for my credentials.
“Ha,” he goes, once I turn them over, “AND it’s your birthday. Your twenty-first even. Have you been drinking?”
Oh my god. At least this one is easier.
“No. I’m looking for an apartment. And I just need a tow. That’s it.”
After a bit more of useless interrogation and judgement on my lack of cleanliness, he finally makes the call.
While I’m grateful to be off the Merritt, and away from the cop, once riding shotgun in the tow truck it occurs to me that I’ll need to call someone…who lives in state, to pick me up.
The only CT number I can recall is an ex-boyfriend’s. The one who’s heart I broke for the boy from Georgia (who would in turn wreak havoc on mine).
When he (miraculously) picks up I lead with:
“It’s Amanda, please don’t hang up I’m in real trouble.”
He doesn’t. Instead he shows up and asks if he can take me out for a legal drink, and I tell him that I have to go to work (which is true) and the twenty-minute ride is painfully awkward.
And that is the lasting gift of my 21st birthday. That asking for help and getting on your way can be painful and awkward. And expensive. And still…worth doing.